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Travel Warnings and Advisories

These days, you're probably not planning a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan -- the United States and other developed nations are currently advising citizens against all non-essential travel to these countries. But a government travel warning doesn't necessarily mean that it's a bad idea to plan a trip to a particular part of the world. In fact, the governments of the U.S., Canada or the U.K. have also released warnings about the following countries: Thailand, Mexico, China, India and the United States.

All of these are popular tourist destinations (if not home!). But before you decide to avoid these countries altogether -- or to move to Canada -- it's worth taking a closer look at what a government's travel advisories mean, why they're released and how to evaluate them.

About Travel Warnings
Governments issue warnings to let their citizens know about safety concerns that may affect travel to a particular country or region. In the United States, warnings are issued by the State Department.

Travel advisories are released for a variety of reasons, including terrorism, natural disasters, political unrest, wars, health emergencies and outbreaks of crime. Warnings may also cover areas of the world where a government does not have the ability to respond to the problems of citizens traveling there -- for example, if the government doesn't have an embassy in a particular country, or if the functioning of its embassy is threatened by local violence.

Many governments make a distinction between long- and short-term travel advisories. The U.S. State Department issues travel warnings for "long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable," while travel alerts cover temporary problems such as natural disasters or election-related demonstrations.

A travel warning -- no matter how strongly worded -- cannot legally stop you from traveling to a particular place. After reading a warning, it is up to you to decide whether to heed or ignore the advice. While your government will try to help you if you run into trouble abroad, you will always be traveling at your own risk.

Evaluating a Travel Warning
Not all travel warnings are created equal. When deciding how seriously to take a particular travel advisory, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. Is the entire country affected? In many cases, violence, unrest or natural disasters are confined to a particular region while the rest of the country is still safe and welcoming to tourists. (For example, Britain's recent travel alert for the U.S. cautioned visitors against traveling in Gulf Coast states during hurricane season.)

While your safety always comes first, keep in mind that the fallout from an isolated act of violence can affect an entire country's tourist industry -- and have a disproportionate effect on the economy of a developing nation.

2. What's the danger? For travel advisories dealing with violence or terrorism, pay attention to what kind of attacks are taking place and who the targets are. Assaults that specifically pinpoint foreign tourists should raise a bigger red flag than civil unrest among locals. If violence generally happens away from primary tourist locations, there may be less risk for visitors.

3. How long ago was the warning posted, and when was it last updated? If you're looking at a warning that's more than a few months old, it may be worth doing a little research to check the current situation on the ground and see if there's been any improvement. The Web sites of international newspapers are often a good source of accurate and up-to-date information.

4. Is the warning corroborated by other governments? To get a fuller story on what's happening in a particular country, check travel warnings from multiple sources (see our links below). Critics have speculated that some advisories are unduly influenced by politics, so checking an American advisory against a Canadian or an Australian one can give you a fresh perspective -- or confirm that a threat is cause for a change in your travel plans.

5. Is there a safety net? Find out whether your home country has an embassy or consulate in the place you want to visit, and make sure it's fully staffed and functioning. If the worst happens, you don't want to be stranded in a foreign country without an embassy to help with emergency evacuation or to get you in contact with family and friends at home.

6. Is travel insurance an option? Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover you in all countries or circumstances. According to TripInsuranceStore.com, most policies do not cover acts of war, riots or civil disorder. Other exclusions may apply.

What if I Decide to Go Anyway?
Each year, many tourists choose to visit certain countries despite their government's warnings. If you decide to do the same, consider taking the following safety precautions.

1. Register yourself. Let your government know when and where you will be traveling so that you can be reached in an emergency. U.S. citizens can register themselves here; other countries have similar programs.

2. Check in. Leave a copy of your itinerary with trusted family or friends at home so that they know where you're supposed to be and when. If possible, schedule a few stops at Internet cafes while you're on the road -- that way you can make contact with worried loved ones and keep up with any news stories that might affect your travels.

3. Be prepared. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Find your home country's embassy or consulate in the area you'll be visiting and carry its contact details with you at all times. But be aware of what the embassy -- and your home government -- can and cannot do. (For example, if you're injured, the State Department can help get you back to the U.S., but you or your relatives will have to foot the bill.)

4. Protect yourself. If possible, purchase a travel insurance policy (but be sure to see what is and isn't covered). Check out our story on Money Safety to help shield yourself against crime. Finally, do your research; read up on the political or cultural situation of the area you're visiting and know exactly what threats you might face.

Where to Find Travel Warnings
Travel warnings in English are issued by the following governments:

  • United States
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Links and information concerning the Swine Flu outbreak:

    WHO Epidemic and Pandemic Alert & Response link: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/index.html

    WHO Pandemic Alert Levels Website: http://bit.ly/SZACp

    Google World Swine Flu Influenza Map: http://bit.ly/P2mcc

    Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Twitter: http://twitter.com/CDCemergency  @CDCemergency

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – H1N1 Swine Flu: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

    US Government Pandemic Link: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/

    U.S Department of State, International Travel: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_4488.html

    "Safety means there is no limit to the amount of effort justified to prevent the recurrence of one accident"

    Travel Safety Tips for Students

    1. Leave copies of your itinerary and passport or visa papers with people at home, so you can be easily contacted.
    2. Make sure your insurance covers you while on vacation.
    3. Do not leave your belongings unattended or accepted packages from strangers.
    4. Avoid using elicited drugs or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
    5. Avoid wearing expensive clothing or jewelry and carrying extra cash or credit cards.
    6. Only deal with authorized agents when exchanging money.
    7. Familiarize yourself with laws and customs of countries you are visiting. Remember, when in another country you are subject to their laws.
    8. Make sure you have a signed and valid passport! Be sure to fill out the emergency information section of the document.
    9. Read travel warnings and public announcements for countries you plan to visit. Available at: www.travel.state.gov
    10. HAVE FUN!!!

    Air Travel Safety Tips when Flying

    with Children and Babies:

                Prior to Arriving at the Airport

    Research your airlines' policy for traveling with small children and infants.










    A brief call to your airline can go a LONG way towards making your airplane ride smooth and can eliminate any problematic surprises!  Find Your Airline in our Air Travel Directory.

    • Always call ahead and let the airline know you are traveling with small children. Most airlines will help you to plan accordingly and offer special conveniences:
              o Extra time to board and un-board the airplane
              o Select special seating near the bathroom and not near the emergency exit
              o Special meals for children

    • What else to ask your airline about:
              o Approved child restraints
              o Stroller acceptability and storage requirements
              o In flight entertainment for children (Movies, games, etc)
              o Is there a changing table in the airplane’s lavatory?
              o Dirty Diaper / Waste Disposal on the airplane
              o Carryon bags permitted per person

              o Does a diaper bag count as a carryon?

              o Restrictions on liquid formula

    • FAA regulations strongly recommend children under 40 lbs should be put in a child restraint system (car seat)
              o Contact your airline to see which car seats are allowed on their aircraft to ensure you bring the appropriate airplane seat  restraint.
              o FAA regulations state that children under 2 can sit on a parents lap with a constraint

    • Plan to Arrive Extra Early to the Airport
              o Allow for time to get through airport baggage check in and airport security with children

    • Talk to your children about flying in an airplane. Read books, show them video or take a family field trip to the nearest airport so they know what to expect when they you arrive for your flight.

    • Dress the entire family comfortably, and if possible, in layers in case of spills.
              o If breast feeding, wear discreet nursing clothes in case a feeding is required on the airplane or in the airport. 
              o Dress your child in very vibrant and distinctive clothing to avoid losing sight of your child in a crowded airport.

    • Pack a change of clothing for you and for your child in your respective carryon baggage in case of any spills.

    • Make sure your carry on / diaper bag has everything you would need in a worst case scenario. Some suggestions are:
              o Baby wipes
              o Hand sanitizer
              o Lotion
              o Lightweight changing pad
              o Hand towel
              o Small bags for dirty diaper / waste disposal
              o All child’s medications
              o Extra set of clothes
              o Diapers
              o Food/formula, etc
              o Anything else you know your baby typically requires (i.e. nose drops, snacks, favorite rattle, etc)

    • Consult your pediatrician before flying with a newborn or infant
              o Avoid travel within 2 weeks of an ear infection (or other ear problems) 
              o Make sure your children are up to date on all vaccinations (and check to see if your destination requires additional vaccinations)

    • Print and review the FAA's Childproof your Flight brochure (pdf). You should also bring this with you to the airport as you may need to use this document to “remind” non US based airlines of some US regulations.

    • Arriving at the Airport
      • Make sure you have all of your kids and baggage when entering the airport.
                o Try and check all baggage as soon as possible as this is one less thing you will have to keep an eye on.
                o If old enough, request your children carry their own bags (we recommend backpacks).

    • Talk to your children about airport security (X-ray machines, searching their backpacks, metal detectors)

    • Prior to boarding your flight, get all potty breaks out of the way while still in the airport terminal.

    • On The Airplane
      • Understand ALL emergency procedures on a flight that pertain to your child
                o Ex. Ask if they have floatation devices for small children

    • Place some wipes and hand sanitizer into the airplane seat pocket in front of you.

    • Keep them busy once you are seated on the airplane! Here are a few suggestions:
              o Favorite Snacks
              o Coloring & Activity Books
              o Preplanned travel games (e.g. guess the fruit, counting games, etc)
              o Reading Books
              o Portable DVD player (with ear phones)
              o Hand held games (with ear phones)

    • To help with their ears:
              o For young children – give them a bottle or give them a pacifier (the sucking will help alleviate the pain)
              o For older children – have them chew bubble gum

    • Do your best to maintain your baby’s routine while in flight.

    • Do your best! Traveling anywhere with children is never easy, and traveling with children on an airplane can be the ultimate test of your patients.
              o Be prepared to lose things or leave them on the airplane
              o Be prepared for exhaustion once your reach your final destination
              o Be prepared to keep telling yourself that
    it will all be worth it! (Because it will)

    Other Resources:

    American Academy of Pediatrics

    Dedicated to the health and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.

    Federal Aviation Administration

    The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for the safety of civil aviation

    Transportation Security Administration

    Center for Disease Control and Prevention

    U.S. government health recommendations for traveling. Provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Air Safe.com

    Airline safety and security information from the passenger perspective as well as other useful information for the traveling public and aviation professionals, as well as information on recent fatal plane crashes.


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